“The Father” is a somber but harrowing chamber drama which calmly and sensitively depicts that confusing and devastating psychological condition of dementia. As its increasingly non-linear narrative is unfolded inside its small background, the movie gives us some acute insight and understanding on its old hero’s irreversible mental deterioration, and we come to empathize more with what he will continue to suffer till the inevitable end of his life.
During the opening scene, the movie succinctly establishes the relationship between Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) and his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman). Although Anthony adamantly believes that he still can take of himself well enough despite being quite old and fragile at present, Anne sincerely believes that her father really needs some extra care and assistance, and the mood becomes more awkwardness as they argue with each other on whether another caregiver should be hired for him after the previous one left due to a small incident involved with his old wristwatch.
Although Anthony seems to be all right on the surface, the movie slowly begins to show us how confusing things can be to him. For example, when he seems to be simply going through another usual day, somebody suddenly enters, and he cannot recognize this person at all even though this person is supposed to be Anne’s husband. In addition, he also cannot recognize his own daughter at all when she subsequently comes, and he is also baffled to know that he has actually been living with Anne and her husband instead of living alone by himself in his own residence.
After that, Anthony keeps getting more confused and disoriented, and we naturally begin to question what is presented through his apparently unreliable viewpoint. He frequently loses the sense of time, and his mind sometimes retreats into his recent past memories for no apparent reason. For example, he often talks about Anne’s younger sister and how much he misses her, but, of course, there is a reason why she never comes to meet him, and you can easily guess the reason as watching Anne’s silent reaction to her father’s affectionate words on her younger sister.
Furthermore, he also shows rapid mood swings beyond his control. When a new caregiver comes for having a short interview with Anne, he warmly greets her at first while showing a little more cheerful and humorous side of him, but then he becomes quite spiteful about having another caregiver. Driven by anger as well as confusion, he says quite hurtful things to his daughter, and Anne has to endure that as a daughter who still deeply cares about her father.
It goes without saying that Anne apparently feels tired, exasperated, and frustrated as reflected by a few brief personal moments, and that certainly puts a strain on her relationship with her husband, but we cannot be that sure about her current status of life due to Anthony’s faulty memory. Is she really married, or is she actually soon going to move to Paris along with her boyfriend as she said to her father during the opening scene?
While constantly making us wonder about what is actually happening around Anthony, director/co-writer Florian Zeller, who adapted his acclaimed 2012 stage play with Christopher Hampton, engages us more as slowly immersing us into Anthony’s confused state of mind via several achingly human moments. When he finally comes to that eventual point where he is utterly scare and helpless with more regress in his mind, Anthony has no choice but to accept what has been happening to him, and this poignant moment is deftly and touchingly delivered to us without any cheap sentiment.
As the fading human center of the film, Anthony Hopkins, who will definitely receive an Oscar nomination for his performance in next month, is superlative in his nuanced acting. Although he often seemed to waste his talent during last 20 years, Hopkins has not lost any of his talent and presence yet as recently shown from his Oscar-nominated turn in “The Two Popes” (2019), and he is effortless as subtly conveying to us his character’s fear, anger, and confusion without any excess or exaggeration. Yes, he will be always remembered for his chilling Oscar-winning performance in “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991), but Hopkins has been always capable of doing many other things besides that iconic performance, and the movie surely proves his immense versatility again.
Several other main cast members in the film dutifully support Hopkins while holding each own space around him. While Olivia Colman, who has been much more prominent thanks to her Oscar-winning breakthrough turn in “The Favourites” (2019), deserves an Oscar nomination for her unadorned but heartfelt performance, Rufus Sewell, Imogen Poots, Mark Gatiss, and Olivia Williams are also solid in their respective small supporting roles, and Williams is particularly wonderful as her compassionate character tactfully handles a sudden embarrassing moment between her and Anthony.
Overall, “The Father” is a successful feature film debut by Zeller, who did a smooth job of preventing his adaptation result from looking stiff or stagy at all. Thanks to his competent direction and the excellent performances from his main cast members, the movie deserves to be compared with other similar drama films such as “Iris” (2001) and “Away from Her” (2006), and it is indeed one of the better films from last year.
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